What Can a 424-Year-Old Book Teach Us about the Conscience?

Article
09.29.2020

“Wholesome laws of men, made of things indifferent, bind the conscience by virtue of the general commandment of God, which ordains the magistrate’s authority, so as whosoever shall wittingly and willingly, with a disloyal mind, either break or omit such laws, is guilty of sin before God.”
— William Perkins, A Discourse of Conscience (1596).[1]

“Human laws bind not simply, but so far forth as they are agreeable to God’s Word, serve for the common good, stand with good order, and hinder not the liberty of conscience”
— William Perkins, A Discourse of Conscience (1596).[2]

I have often heard Mark Dever remark that the most profound Christian reflections on the conscience have come from the Puritans. Chief among the Puritans in this regard is William Perkins. Perkins wrote voluminously, and his writings contain numerous treatises on the conscience.[3] Focusing almost exclusively on his earliest treatise, A Discourse of Conscience (1596),[4] this article aims to introduce contemporary Christians to the language of “conscience” by answering four questions and then applying them to the issue of civil disobedience and disputes among Christians. We will begin by asking,

  • What is the conscience?
  • What is Christian liberty?
  • What is “binding the conscience”?
  • What are “things indifferent”?

I. WHAT IS CONSCIENCE?

According to Perkins, the conscience is the faculty of the understanding which renders judgment by applying what one knows to be true to one’s thoughts, actions, and affections.[5] He writes, “Conscience is a part of the understanding in all reasonable creatures, determining of their particular actions either with them or against them.”[6]

As “God’s arbitrator” within us, the conscience is constantly working to “give testimony or to give judgment.”[7] The conscience renders judgment by determining “that a thing is well done or ill done.”[8] As Perkins writes, “Herein conscience is like to a judge who holds an assize, and takes notice of indictments, and causes the most notorious malefactor that is to hold up his hand at the bar of his judgment.”[9]

To render judgment, the conscience draws on the “mind and memory” to construct “practical syllogism[s]” with which to render judgment.[10] Such “syllogisms” go something like this:

“Every murderer is cursed,” says the mind.
“You are a murderer,” says conscience assisted by memory.
Ergo, “You are accursed,” says conscience, and so gives her sentence.[11]

Sometimes the conscience performs these reasonings before a sin, sometimes after.[12] In either case, the proper effect of such judgments is shame:

The first [effect] is shame, which is an affection of the heart whereby a man is grieved and displeased with himself that he has done any evil, and this shame shows itself by the rising of the blood from the heart to the face.[13]

Shame is followed by “sadness and sorrow,” then by “fear,” then by “desperation,” and finally, by the “disquietness of the whole man.”[14] The point of all of this is to seek Christ, receive the gospel, and obey Christ’s commandments.

This is where Christian liberty comes in.

II. WHAT IS CHRISTIAN LIBERTY?

Christian liberty, Perkins writes, is the “property of [a] regenerate conscience.”[15] Through regeneration Christians are given a “good” conscience as opposed to the “evil” one they inherited through original sin.[16] This “good conscience” provides the Christian with assurance (or “certainty”) of salvation. Perkins again: “[The] infallible certainty of pardon of sin and everlasting life is the property of every renewed conscience.”[17] Through the gospel and the help of the Spirit of God, a regenerated conscience has a new syllogism with which to counteract the syllogisms of condemnation. Now the conscience testifies:

“Everyone who believes, is the child of God.”
“But I do believe.”
“Therefore, I am the child of God.”[18]

This is the promise of the gospel proclaimed in every Christian pulpit. And this is the work of every “good” conscience in every believer: first to testify that we are God’s children (Rom. 8:16) and second to excuse or “clear” oneself against Satan’s accusations. Perkins gives a hypothetical dialogue to describe the “good” conscience’s work in responding to Satan’s accusations:

Devil: “You, O wretched man, are a most grievous sinner. Therefore, you are but a damned wretch.”
Conscience: “I know that Christ has made a satisfaction for my sins, and freed me from damnation.”
Devil: “Though Christ has freed you from death by His death, yet you are quite barred from heaven because you never did fulfill the law.”
Conscience: “I know that Christ is my righteousness and has fulfilled the law for me.”
Devil: “Christ’s benefits belong not to you. You are but a hypocrite and want faith.”
Conscience: “I know that I believe.”[19]

Christian liberty, then, is a summary of the Christian life. In Perkins’ thought, it always goes hand-in-hand with “certainty of salvation.”[20] As Perkins puts it, “Christian liberty is a spiritual and holy freedom, purchased by Christ” encompassing three things (and here Perkins tracks closely with John Calvin[21]):

  • Freedom from the condemnation of God’s moral law.
  • Freedom from the rigor of God’s moral law.
  • Freedom from the bond of the ceremonial law.

The first aspect of Christian liberty refers to the freedom from the guilt and condemnation of the law that comes through believing the gospel. “Christian liberty has three parts,” Perkins writes,

The first is a freedom from the justification of the moral law. For he who is a member of Christ is not bound in conscience to bring the perfect righteousness of the law in his own person for his justification before God. (Gal. 5:1–3).[22]

Through the gospel, every adopted child of God is “freed from the curse and condemnation of the law” (Rom. 8:1, Gal. 3:13).[23]

Secondly, every believer is freed from the rigor of God’s moral law, “which exacts perfect obedience and condemns all imperfection.”[24] Through union with Christ, God accepts our imperfect obedience, sanctifying it with Christ’s perfection. “Hence it follows,” Perkins writes, “that God will accept our imperfect obedience, if it is sincere.”[25] God relates to us as his adopted children, not with an exacting demand for perfection but with the gracious affection of a father. Because of Christ, he accepts our obedience, however imperfect.

Thirdly, Christian freedom consists in freedom from the bond of the ceremonial law, which has been fulfilled by Christ. This frees the Christian to use that which was formerly forbidden under the ceremonial law (i.e. unclean meats) as unto the Lord. As Perkins writes, “Hence it follows, that all Christians may freely, without scruple of conscience, use all things indifferent, so be it the manner of using them is good.”[26]

So we have seen how “Christian liberty” is a gift of regeneration that provides freedom from condemnation comes through believing the gospel. But what does Perkins mean by “things indifferent”? What are they? How should they be used? And may they be forbidden or commanded?

III. WHAT ARE “THINGS INDIFFERENT”?

“Things indifferent”—or adiaphora as they are sometimes referred to—is a category for things not inherently right or wrong. “Indifferent” does not mean that they are of no consequence or that we should be apathetic toward them. Here the evolution of the English language has not been helpful. What the Oxford English Dictionary today renders “Having no particular interest or sympathy; unconcerned”[27] was as recently as 1828 defined as “Neutral, as to good or evil. Things in themselves indifferent, may be rendered evil by the prohibition of law.”[28] The older definition is much closer to Perkins’ meaning.

For this reason, we instead prefer to use the language of “morally disputable matters” when referring to what has historically been called “things indifferent.” That these matters are “morally disputable” better conveys the nature of these discussions. As D. A. Carson has written,

Today there is a tendency to refer to such adiaphora as “disputable matters” rather than as “indifferent matters”—that is, theologically disputable matters. On the whole, that terminology is probably better: in contemporary linguistic usage “disputable matters” is less likely to be misunderstood than “indifferent matters.[29]

For something to be “morally disputable” means that it is neither expressly forbidden or condoned by Scripture. As Perkins puts it, “things indifferent . . . namely such things as are neither expressly commanded nor forbidden by God.”[30] Perkins specifically discusses fastings, eating meat, and recreation as examples of this category—hot topics among the Christians of his day as they sought to extract themselves from the rules of the Roman Church and return to Scripture.[31] Such matters are sometimes referred to as areas of “Christian liberty” because they frequently involve ceremonial laws that were in force in the Old Testament but no longer bind believers (i.e. food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8, certain kinds of food in Romans 14, or Sabbath-observance in Col. 2:14). For such areas, Scripture gives principles, such as edification and love of neighbor, which guide the Christian to use them properly.

A proper understanding of “disputable matters” is central to Christian liberty because they must not be elevated to the status of God’s moral law. As Perkins writes in The Whole Treatise of Cases of Conscience (1606), “It is a part of Christian liberty to have freedom in conscience, as touching all things indifferent.”[32] Again, this is not “libertine freedom” to do as one pleases, but freedom to use them as long as “the manner of using them is good.”[33] As we will see, the category of “disputable matters” is especially important when we speak of binding the conscience.

IV. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BIND THE CONSCIENCE?

According to Perkins, to bind the conscience is “to urge, cause, and constrain [the conscience] in every action, either to accuse for sin or excuse for well doing.”[34] In a word, it is “to say this may be done or it may not be done.”[35] That which “binds” then has “power and authority over conscience to order it,” to command it.[36]

The question then, is who or what has authority to bind the conscience?

Perkins explains that the conscience may be bound “properly” or “improperly.” The proper binder of conscience is the Word of God: “Proper is that thing which has absolute and sovereign power in itself to bind the conscience. And that is the Word of God.”[37]

Improper binding of conscience refers to anything or anyone other than the Word of God that asserts authority over the conscience. “The improper binder is that which has no power or virtue in itself to bind conscience.”[38] As that authority belongs to God alone, any usurpation of that authority—whether by the Church of Rome or civil government—is unlawful.

Perkins could not be more clear on this point:

But God is the only Lord of conscience because He once created it, and He alone governs it, and none but He knows it. Therefore, His Word and laws only bind conscience properly.[39]

Therefore, the Word of God alone, by an absolute and sovereign power, binds conscience.[40]

“Disputable matters” cannot properly speaking “bind the conscience.” As we have already explained, only God’s moral law can properly bind the conscience.[41] We will delve further into how consciences may be “bound” in “disputable matters” by the civil magistrate by virtue of the biblical command to submit to civil government (Rom. 13:1–2), but for now it is important to establish that only God’s Word can bind the conscience.

THE ROLE OF MINISTERS IN BINDING THE CONSCIENCE 

If only God’s Word can bind the conscience, what role, if any, do ministers play in that process? In a word, through right preaching and proper instruction, God’s Word binds consciences. Ministers are the means through which God works by his Word.

The first implication of this is to repudiate the Roman doctrine that the Papacy possessed the power to bind the conscience as a function of the power of the keys (Matt. 16:19).[42] “Here (say they) pointing to Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:19, ‘to bind is to make laws constraining conscience.’”[43] Perkins, however, disagrees. As we have already seen, binding the conscience is a sovereign power that belongs to God alone:

The sovereign power of binding and loosing is not belonging to any creature, but is proper to Christ who has the keys of heaven and hell. He opens and no man shuts; He shuts and no man opens (Rev. 3:7).[44]

The role of the church and of ministers is to “publish and pronounce that Christ binds or looses,” not to bind or loose by sheer fiat.[45] In this, Perkins interprets Matthew 16:19 in light of Matthew 18:15 where, according to Perkins, Jesus explains how “this binding stands not in the power of making laws, but in remitting and retaining of men’s sins.”[46] This authority, moreover, of declaring the good news of the forgiveness of sins is not restricted to the clergy but is given “to all Christians.”[47] “God alone makes laws binding conscience properly, and no creature can do the like,” not even ministers of the gospel.[48]

Ministers do not bind consciences. Ministers preach God’s Word, which, when truly preached, binds the conscience.

ROLE OF THE CIVIL MAGISTRATE 

The case of the civil magistrate presents an interesting opportunity to apply Perkins’ categories. Christian consciences, Perkins explains, are bound by God’s Word to obey civil magistrates by virtue of the sweeping command of God’s moral law: “Whosoever resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God” and “they that resist shall receive to themselves judgment” and “ye must be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake” (Rom. 13:2–5).[49]

Yet it is important to note that it is not the magistrate who binds the conscience by his law or decree but the Word of God which commands submission to magistrates. This distinction is subtle but important. The Christian does not need to conform the convictions of their conscience to the magistrate’s decree; they just need to remember that they are commanded to obey the magistrate (Rom. 13) and submit.

Perkins insists that the magistrate does not possess “absolute authority” over our consciences, “for the sovereign power of God is incommunicable.”[50] Instead, the magistrates power is a “finite and limited power” and only to be exercised in accordance with God’s delegated authority.[51] Perkins’ point is unmistakable: no human, no government, and no church can properly bind consciences. That is reserved for God’s Word alone.

So what does this look like practically?

GETTING PRACTICAL 

Laws Concerning “Disputable Matters”

In many cases, civil laws concern “morally disputable matters” such as speed limits and tax rates.[52] It is not that these are matters of no significance. It simply means that there is no positive command or prohibition in God’s moral law concerning them. Such cases are simple: obey the law. Even though such civil laws have no power in themselves to bind the conscience, we are bound to obey them by virtue of the sweeping commandment of Romans 13: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers” (Rom. 13:1). In other words, “They bind only by virtue of a higher commandment.”[53] As a result, men are bound “in conscience to obey their governors’ lawful commandments.”[54]

But what about “Christian liberty”? Christian liberty means that we are freed from the condemning power of the law in order to fulfill the law by heartfelt obedience to God, who commands us to submit to the civil magistrate (Romans 13:1–2).[55] That leads to the first conclusion: if a civil law concerns “disputable matters,” the Christian response is to obey.

Laws Affirming God’s Moral Law

A second scenario could involve a civil law that confirms the moral teachings of Scripture. For example, a prohibition on murder (Ex. 20:13). If the civil law is rooted in part of God’s revealed moral law (i.e. “thou shall not murder”) then it is not the human law which binds but the divine law which is in force.[56] As Perkins writes,

If the case falls out otherwise, as commonly it does, that human laws are not enacted of things indifferent, but of things that are good in themselves, that is, commanded by God, then they are not human properly but divine laws. Men’s laws, entreating of things that are morally good . . . are the same with God’s laws and, therefore, bind conscience, not because they were enacted by men, but because they were first made by God.”[57]

Breaking such divine laws involves a “double condemnation” because it is breaking “that which is in conscience a law of God” and second, because in disobeying his lawful magistrate, he disobeys the general commandment of God touching magistracy.”[58] That leads to the second conclusion, civil laws that affirm God’s moral law are especially important to obey.

When a Civil Law Contradicts God’s Moral Law?

Sometimes, however, Christians face a situation where a civil magistrate establishes a law that contradicts God’s moral law, either by requiring what God forbids or by forbidding what God requires. As Perkins writes,

When two commandments of the moral law are opposite in respect of us, so as we cannot do them both at the same time, the lesser commandment gives place to the greater and does not bind for that instant. Examples. (1) God commands one thing, and the magistrate commands the flat contrary. In this case which of these two commandments must be obeyed, honor God or honor the magistrate? The answer is that the latter must give place to the former, and the former alone must be obeyed. “Whether it be right in the sight of God to obey you rather than God, judge ye” (Acts 4:19).[59]

Perkins call for “civil disobedience” is couched here in careful language. “Disputable matters” do not justify civil disobedience. Indeed, civil disobedience is only warranted if “we cannot do them both at the same time.” In other words, all attempts must be made to both obey the Civil Magistrate and obey God.[60] Only when all options have been tried is civil disobedience warranted.

In such cases where the magistrate creates a law that contradicts God’s law, the civil law does not bind the conscience, nor is the Christian bound to obey it. On the contrary, he is bound to obey God rather than man:

But if it shall fall out that men’s laws are made of things that are evil and forbidden by God, then is there no bond of conscience at all; but contrariwise, men are bound in conscience not to obey (Acts 4:19). And hereupon the three children are commended for not obeying Nebuchadnezzar when he gave a particular commandment unto them to fall down and worship the golden image (Dan. 3:28).[61]

And again,

Moreover, in that man’s law binds only by [the] power of God’s law, hence it follows, that God’s law alone has this privilege: that the breach of it should be a sin.[62]

In conclusion, only “the laws of God do or can do to bind conscience simply and absolutely.”[63] Human laws, on the other hand, only bind “so far forth as they are agreeable to God’s Word, serve for the common good, stand with good order, and hinder not the liberty of conscience.”[64]

The unavoidable lingering problem from Perkins is that Christians often find themselves disagreeing about whether or not a specific moral question constitutes a “disputable matter” or an aspect of God’s “moral law.” It’s easy enough to figure out what to do if you know what category you are dealing with. The first-century Christians had the advantage of knowing that the Mosaic food laws no longer applied (Rom. 14:14; Mark 7:19) and that debates over meat were therefore “disputable matters” to be dealt with according to the rules of 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14. We do not always have that same advantage.

A LINGERING PROBLEM 

We can “agree to disagree” about a matter of prudence when neither side takes the other to be in flagrant disobedience to God’s Word. But if the parties can’t agree as to whether or not the issue is one of biblical command or a “matter indifferent,” there doesn’t seem to be any easy way of settling the dispute.

This poses clear challenges to church unity. Members who believe the issue to be one of God’s moral law will often try to bind the consciences of those who think it to be a “disputable matter.” These will in turn accuse the others of “legalism” and violating their Christian freedom.

How do we resolve these issues?

THE ROLE OF ELDERS 

This is where a plurality of elders comes in. In the context of a local church, it is the elders’ responsibility to interpret both Scripture and their church’s Statement of Faith and Church Covenant to decide whether or not a specific behavior belongs in the realm of “disputable matters” to be endured or God’s moral law to be enforced. In Perkins’ day, these questions often involved whether ministers could wear vestments during religious services or eating meat on Fridays. In past generations and still to some extent today, they include dancing, music, and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. One particularly thorny issue among Evangelicals today is whether or not a Christian may permissibly vote for a Democratic candidate who, among other policy positions, is committed to defending and expanding abortion rights. Other examples might include in-vitro fertilization, attending a same-sex wedding, or watching an R-rated movie.

Some Christians will believe these to be morally binding aspects of God’s moral law. Others will believe these to be “morally disputable matters” and call for “freedom” to disagree within the same church. If an issue belongs in the realm of “disputable matters” then it must be used with prudence for the glory of God, which means sometimes laying aside a “right” (Rom. 14:13, 1 Cor. 8:13). If it belongs in the category of God’s revealed moral law, then ministers must teach their congregations how God’s Word binds the conscience in that area. If a Christian persists in disobedience to God’s moral law, they must be dealt with according to the rules of church discipline laid out in Scripture (Matt. 18:15–20; 1 Cor. 5:1–13).

WHO DECIDES?

The default position for most moral issues not explicitly addressed in Scripture is to treat them as “morally disputable.” Nevertheless, the elders will frequently be required to examine an issue and render a biblical verdict on whether a specific moral issue belongs in the category of “morally disputable” or “God’s moral law.” Our elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church have done so on issues such as divorce and remarriage, in-vitro fertilization, and attending a same-sex wedding.

This is part of the duty of being a shepherd: saying “no, that’s not safe,” or “proceed with caution,” or “this is the right way to go.”

If the leaders decide that a specific moral question belongs in the category of “morally disputable,” then members of that church should submit to the elders’ teaching and not attempt to improperly bind the consciences of other members by treating it as a matter of God’s revealed moral law. If Joe feels that drinking alcohol is wrong, but the elders consider it “morally disputable,” Joe should not go around telling other members of the church that Christians should not drink. At the same time, members who have “stronger consciences” should not abuse their freedom but walk in love according to the rules of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, which may mean sometimes abstaining from their “rights.”

This also means that the elders of a particular church have the responsibility to discern whether or not a specific civil law involves a “disputable matter” and is therefore to be obeyed (Rom. 13:1–2) or a violation of God’s “moral law” and civil disobedience therefore to be required (Acts 4:19). Again, these complex decisions will require careful examination of God’s Word and the circumstances. Inevitably, some will disagree with the conclusions.

When the elders work hard to align their convictions with those of God’s Word and clearly communicate to the congregation what issues belong in the realm of “things indifferent” and matters of God’s revealed moral law, members will more readily know what issues they’re deciding not to divide over, This allows them to more easily walk in love with one another. I hope this introduction to one Protestant Reformer on the topic of conscience will encourage Christians and pastors to work in their congregations to develop a shared language when discussing matters of conscience, Christian freedom, and civil disobedience.

* * * * *

FOOTNOTES:

[1] William Perkins,  A Discourse of Conscience, in The Works of William Perkins, vol. 8. ed. J. Stephen Yuille (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2020), 39. (Hereafter WWP)

[2] WPP 8:40.

[3] This presentation and discussion of Perkins’ thought is based on William Perkins, A Discourse of Conscience Wherein is Set Down the Nature, Properties, and Differences thereof: as also the Way to Get and Keep a Good Conscience (Cambridge, 1596). See also Perkins’ The Whole Treatise of The Cases of Conscience (1606). For further discussion see W. B. Patterson, William Perkins and the Making of a Protestant England (Oxford University Press, 2014), 90-113; and Coleman Cain Markham, William Perkins’ Understanding of the Function of Conscience (PhD Diss. Vanderbilt University, 1967). Many thanks to Eric Beach, Brad Wilcox, Mark Dever, and Jonathan Leeman for their comments and help throughout.

[4] WWP 8:39.

[5] According to J.I. Packer, this definition of the conscience follows Thomas Aquinas definition, see J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2010), 107). William Ames, for instance, begins his textbook on conscience by reproducing Aquinas’ definition of conscience as ‘a mans judgement of himself, according to the judgement of God of him’ (William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases thereof (1643), 2. Cited in Packer, 107).

[6] WWP 8:7.

[7] WWP 8:10.

[8] WWP 8:10.

[9] WWP 8:12.

[10] WWP 8:50.

[11] WWP 8:50.

[12] WWP 8:51.

[13] WWP 8:52.

[14] WWP 8:52-53.

[15] WWP 8:57.

[16] WWP 8:82. For “evil conscience” see Heb. 10:22. For “good conscience” see Acts 23:1, 1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 1 Peter 3:16, 21.

[17] WWP 8:77.

[18] WWP 8:77.

[19] WWP 8:81.

[20] WWP 8:57. As Perkins writes, “The second property of conscience is an infallible certainty of the pardon of sin and everlasting life” (8:61).

[21] WWP 8:57. As Calvin writes in the Institutes, “Apart from a knowledge of [Christian freedom], consciences dare undertake almost nothing without doubting; they hesitate and recoil from many things; they constantly waver and are afraid. But freedom is especially an appendage of justification and is of no little avail in understanding its power” (Institutes, III.xix.1).

[22] WWP 8:57.

[23] WWP 8:57.

[24] WWP 8:57.

[25] WWP 8:57.

[26] WWP 8:58. See Eph. 2:14–15, Col. 2:14.

[27] OED Online. June 2020. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/7179;jsessionid=61494FA30F6628009908C800D2210718 (accessed August 13, 2020).

[28] Websters (1828).

[29] D.A. Carson, “On Disputable Matters,” Themelios 40.3 (2015): 383.

[30] WWP 8:39.

[31] WWP 8:33, 42, 58-59, 119, 327, 332, 343, 416.

[32] WWP 8:395.

[33] WWP 8:58.

[34] WWP 8:13.

[35] WWP 8:13.

[36] WWP 8:13. “The binder is that thing whatsoever which has power and authority over conscience to order it. To bind is to urge, cause, and constrain it in every action, either to accuse for sin or excuse for well doing, or to say this may be done or it may not be done. Conscience is said to be bound as it is considered apart by itself from the binding power of God’s commandment. For then it has liberty and is not bound either to accuse or excuse, but is apt to do either of them indifferently.”

[37] WWP 8:13.

[38] WWP 8:26.

[39] WWP 8:13.

[40] WWP 8:13.

[41] This is why the proper instruction of the mind and understanding in the Word of God was so important to Perkins. Without knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, the conscience is bound to function improperly. An “evil” unregenerated conscience without God’s Word is bound to make mistaken judgments. A “good” regenerated conscience poorly instructed in God’s Word is likewise bound to make mistaken judgments. Only a “good” regenerated conscience that is properly instructed in God’s Word will judge itself according to God’s Word.

[42] WPP 8:27.

[43] Ibid.

[44] WPP 8:27

[45] WPP 8:27. Italics mine. “ Again, this binding stands not in the power of making laws, but in remitting and retaining of men’s sins, as the words going before declare, “If thy brother sin against thee” (v. 18). And Christ shows His own meaning when He says, “Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained” (John 20:23), having before in the person of Peter promised them this honor, in this form of words, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be bound in heaven” (Matt. 16:19).”

[46] WPP 8:27.

[47] WPP 8:28: “Again, Origen, Augustine, and Theophylact, attribute the power of binding to all Christians, and therefore, they for their parts never dreamed that the power of binding should be an authority to make laws.” One might detect a “nascent congregationalism” here. As Perkins has written elsewhere, the proper exercise of “binding and loosing,” according to Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Cor. 5:1-5 “must be done in the face of the church by the consent of the whole church” (WPP 4:246. Thanks to Eric Beach for pointing me to this reference).

[48] WPP 8:35.

[49] WPP 8:31.

[50] WWP 8:35.

[51] WWP 8:35.

[52] Perkins writes that this is the “ordinary sphere” of civil laws: “human laws properly entreat, namely such things as are neither expressly commanded nor forbidden by God” (WWP 8:39).

[53] WWP 8:39.

[54] WPP 8:39.

[55] As the Dutch-speaking Strangers’ Church in London put it in 1565: “Christian liberty is not a wandering and unruly licence, by which we may do or leave undone whatsoever we list at our pleasure; but it is a free gift bestowed upon us by Christ our Lord; by the which, the children of God, (that is, all the faithful,) being delivered from the curse of the law, or eternal death, and from the heavy yoke of the ceremonial law, and being endowed with the Holy Ghost, begin willingly of their own accord to serve God in holiness and righteousness” (Propositions or articles framed for the use of the Dutch Church in London, article 1. Reproduced in John Strype, The History of the Life and Acts of Edmund Grindal (New York, NY: Burt Franklin Reprints), 519).

[56] WWP 8:39.

[57] WWP 8:39.

[58] WPP 8:39.

[59] WWP 8:14-15.

[60] WWP 8:14.

[61] WWP 8:39-40.

[62] WWP 8:40.

[63] WWP 8:40.

[64] WWP 8:40.

By:
Caleb Morell

A graduate of Georgetown University and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Caleb Morell is a pastoral assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter at @calebmorell.